John Armstrong

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John Armstrong, Sadko Hadzihasanovic


At 5:30 a.m., to the consternation of Ross and Porter, a loud strong, death rattle began, like the turning of a crank. Foam and Blood came from his mouth during the morning, and at ten minutes to two in the afternoon Wilde died. He had scarcely breathed his last breath when the body exploded with fluids from the ear, nose, mouth, and other orifices. The debris was appalling.

From Oscar Wilde, Richard Ellman, p584

“Either that wallpaper goes or I do.”

“Either those curtains go or I do.”

Two versions of the apocryphal last words of Oscar Wilde

Immediately after entering the death chamber, I swooned and sank to an ottoman deftly positioned beneath me by a liveried menial lurking discreetly in shadow. The gloom of those hereditary halls somewhat stilled the distemper of my fancy; and, in the rigorous seclusion of the place, simple syllables, like drips that echo in the stony well’s unfathomable abyss, beat a dreary tattoo from within me. Gone. Gone. Gone.

Here where before, lurid tableau of voluptuous debauch had fevered my hectic vision — now a mouldering array of instruments of grief lay about me at all hands: beeswax tapers, rosy wreaths, fragrant cedar, cypress and lily, memorial crepe. The menial’s subtle attentions had sculpted to hang with damask one massive oval looking glass, shrouding from its own vile corruptions the one that clung — alas, vainly! — to its tenement of clay.

At length I surveyed the loathsome peculiarities of that which should have been, for many days, a tenant of the tomb. I will forebear to speak here of what language of mortality has not sufficient colours to depict. And though I have been oft reproached with the aridity of my genius, let my oaths by my fellows who expiate their frolic in their blood beat me witness that I would I had never beheld such horror.

Elaborate obsequies, concocted in the wild dominions of the Departed’s monastic thought and erudition, drew the oppressed spirit of that meagre assembly toward trespass upon the kingdom of inorganization. And it was, seemingly, so to beguile the monotony of this infernal mummery that my unquiet eye wandered, to mark…unusual motions among the tapestries.

Whether one hour or one instant vanished then, futurity itself shall not decide. But, waking once more to earthly things, I sense that some encumbrance—newly conjured, yet of ancient provenance—was drawing its first monstrous breath within me.

It was a word, and one that I knew to be mine. With time, I came to believe that it signified both an organ and a disease of the same; an, that this grim inheritance had called forth its own species of dread, on which I must henceforth dance attendance.

Published in a handout that accompanied the exhibition "John Armstrong and Sadko Hadzihasanovic" curated by Tony Massett at the Durham Art Gallery, Durham, Ontario, 1999.